PARIS (Reuters) - Shareholders of French utilities Suez LYOE.PA and Gaz de France GAZ.PA will vote on Wednesday to seal a 100-billion euro ($159.5 billion) merger that will create Europe’s second-largest electricity and gas group.
The votes, which are widely expected to approve the deal, will conclude a 2-1/2 year merger saga, punctuated by takeover noises from Italy, a political dispute over privatization policy in France, union opposition and bickering over its financial terms.
Here are some key dates in the contentious merger:
* Feb 21: Italy’s biggest utility Enel (ENEI.MI) says it may launch a bid for Suez as part of its plan to buy a stake in Belgian utility Electrabel, owned by Suez.
* Feb 25: Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin announces plans for a merger between GDF and Suez.
* Feb 26: GDF and Suez outline a deal for a merger of equals. Italy urges Brussels to intervene.
* June 19: The European Commission opens a probe.
The French government postpones to September a parliamentary debate on the privatization of GDF in the face of mounting opposition from the ruling conservatives.
* June 28: The government approves the privatization bill.
* Aug 29-31: A parliamentary commission reviews a record 137,449 amendments filed by left-wing opposition members in an attempt to filibuster the process.
* Oct 3: France’s lower house of parliament approves by 327 votes to 212 an energy bill allowing the GDF privatization.
* Oct 13: Suez agrees to sell its majority stake in Belgium’s Distrigas, and GDF its 25.5 percent interest in Belgian power producer SPE, as part of fresh concessions to the European Union aimed at winning approval for the deal.
* Oct 25: The French Senate approves the energy bill.
* Oct 30: Suez and GDF say Suez’s Gerard Mestrallet will be chairman and CEO of the merged group, and GDF’s Jean-Francois Cirelli the new group’s vice chairman and president.
* Nov 14: GDF and Suez win permission from the EU Commission, but the approval is conditional on a series of disposals by the new company.
* Nov 21: A Paris appeals court orders GDF to postpone a board meeting called to approve its planned merger with Suez after trade unions seek more time to examine the details.
* Nov 30: France’s constitutional council clears the energy bill needed for the privatization of GDF, but says the merger with Suez cannot become effective before July 1, 2007 when the EU liberalization of energy markets takes place.
* Dec 21: French billionaire Francois Pinault is reported to be mulling a break-up bid for Suez.
* Jan 9: France’s AMF financial markets watchdog gives Pinault three weeks to bid for Suez, or hold off for six months.
* Jan 19: Pinault withdraws the threat of a bid for Suez, but says he will look for alternatives to the Suez merger.
* Jan 25: Suez denies reports in a Spanish newspaper that it is mulling a takeover bid for Endesa (ELE.MC) and reiterates its commitment to a merger with Gaz de France.
* March 8: Presidential candidate Nicolas Sarkozy says he wants to consider whether GDF is better off linking up with a larger gas producer.
* May 4: Suez says it would seek to obtain fairer terms if the new French president decides to go ahead with the merger.
* May 6: Sarkozy wins the French presidential election.
* June 7: Prime Minister Francois Fillon says EDF (EDF.PA) and Algeria’s Sonatrach are alternative options for GDF.
* Aug 28: GDF appeals to Suez to “take the necessary steps” to make the merger happen amid reports the government wants Suez to divest some or all of its water and waste business.
* Aug 30: Suez says it is prepared to go it alone if the merger with GDF falls through.
Sarkozy says Suez needs to give up its historic water business to allow the merger to go ahead.
* Sept 3: GDF and Suez agree on new terms — 21 GDF shares for 22 Suez shares and the partial spin-off of Suez’s water arm.
* Jan 22: A Paris court tells GDF to provide its works council with more details on the merger.
* May 26: GDF’s works council gives its formal opinion on the deal after a Paris court rejects a call by the CGT union to postpone the works council meeting.
* May 29: Suez sells its Distrigas stake to Italy’s Eni.
* June 4: GDF and Suez boards back the merger.
* June 16: Suez and GDF wins regulatory clearance for their deal and the market listing of Suez’s water business.
* June 20: GDF agrees to sell its SPE stake to EDF.
* July 15: GDF and propose payment of a special dividend of 0.80 euro per share by the merged GDF Suez.
* July 16: GDF and Suez shareholders vote on the merger.
* July 22: GDF Suez merger set to become effective and Suez Environnement makes market debut in Paris and Brussels.
Reporting by Marie Maitre; Editing by Paul Bolding